04 August 2012

Mad Blood Stirring

Mad Blood Stirring: Vendetta in Renaissance Italy by Edward Muir looks at the nature of Vendetta on the northern fringes of venetian territory through the history of a particular extend struggle between two powerful groups of nobles at from the end of the fifteenth through the end of the sixteenth century.  It focuses most of all on a particularly grisly outburst during the Carnival of 1511.

The struggle between the Savorgnan and Delle Torre family and their followers is tracked in loving detail along with the fortunes of Friuli as its Venetian rulers alter existing power structures to in an effort control Venice's frontiers with the Emperor and the Turks.

In addition to learning the unpleasant rules of Vendetta (where the objective is not just the to kill an enemy, but to utterly disgrace him in life and desecrate his remains in death), there is a good deal of information about the nature of small scale border raiding and ambush in the early 16th Century - a perspective lost (for good reason) in any history of the Italian Wars that focuses on great sieges, decisive battles, and high politics.

The Carnival disturbances went beyond the direct participants in the vendetta; it became a full scale peasant uprising.  In examining this aspect, Muir also gives us a look at life at the low end of the noble class.

Finally, looking a the conclusion of the vendetta - which evolved from ambush, to duels, to a war of words in print - lets us look at the evolution of the "new manners" from the courts of the sixteenth century.  The mechanisms of dueling that survived into our own time -- challenge, choice of weapons, seconds -- is in this corner of the world a late imposition on the older structure of revenge and is to some extent successful in resolving the vendetta by moving he contest from group to individual honor.

A book of interest to people interested in both social and military history; for re-enactors dedicated to the renaissance this might help show the tone of interactions behind the civilized facade.  The difficulty, of course, would come in generalizing from the particular of Friuli to  the wider sphere European or even of purely Italian traditions.

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